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American Indian Trade Beads

Glass beads were traded for a long time by early civilizations. The Native American Indians had had beads as part of their attire for centuries. These beads were made from shells, stone, wood, copper, bones and antler. Glass beads for trade were brought to the Native Indians by Lewis and Clark, the Vikings, Christopher Columbus, Spanish explorers among others. Most notably, glass beads were brought by Lewis and Clark to Idaho for the Native Indians as trade beads.

Beadwork in American Indian societies was used for decorative purposes, as well as for symbolism. It is not easy to point out exactly how old the craft of beadwork and the manufacturing of beads are in the Native Indians America societies.

Items made from shell beads were the ones that were used originally for trade for thousands of years. Bead art from the Native American societies consisted of belts, purses, jewelry and the like. Replicas of these ancient items are being made and sold in these present times. This in turn translates to the loss of revenue to the American Indians to the tune of millions each year. Original beads were curved from antlers, hooves, sea shells and other common shells.

While trading, the Native Americans threw down blankets and sat on them cross legged with the Nez Perce that were producing red glass beads.  The Nez Perce had indicated that they had preferred blue beads more than they did the red beads. These blue beads were referred to as the sky-blue padre owing to the fact that they were light blue in color. The same sky blue padre bead was later traded by the Hudson Bay Fur trade company. It was at that time produced by the Chinese. The Chinese later began to produce white padres that were later followed by yellow, red and then green padres.

The sky blue padre bead was a favorite of the American Indians and they referred to it as a piece of the sky. The glass beads that the American Indians traded later became a big part of their regalia and their entire lives. Trade beads were introduced to the Native Americans during the 200 year American Fur Trade period where they were introduced to millions of trade beads.  A tradition that would never die had been started and the Fur trade industry flourished among the Native Americans. Glass beads would forever change the lives of the Native Americans and the glass adornment would distinguish them from all other cultures for centuries to come.